She is at her mother’s house. The hospital gave her the clothes and the other things in bin bags, and she realised on the drive that more bags were needed. She went to the corner shop, bought some air freshener, some bleach, some rubber gloves, and three rolls of what the label called multi-purpose super-strong refuse sacks. And now, here, standing in the kitchen, she knows that there is nothing in this house which she wants.
She pulls the strip of bags apart, opens each one by stretching the top and pulling at the plastic, and she lays them on the floor, carefully, in a long line. Then she takes five of the bags upstairs.
The bedroom is a mess. The smell is old, musty, but also sharp. Urine and dust. There are spots of mildew all over the walls, and clothes lie everywhere. The wardrobe is open, and there is a trail of dirty washing spilling from a canvas sack.
She is wearing the rubber gloves, and she begins to pick up the clothes and put them in the bin bags. She is not thinking of her mother. She is thinking of Tom. She is imaging Tom kissing the woman – her name is Katie, he told her – that he has been seeing. When she closes her eyes, it is not only the kissing that she sees.
The bags fill with clothes quickly, and she goes back to the kitchen to get more.
She fills seven bin bags with clothes, another three with shoes, another with bed linen, and then she drags everything out from under the bed and bags it all up without even looking. Papers, mainly. Photographs. She doesn’t want to see any of it. She looks at the old curtains – heavy blue drapes with a thick cloth lining – and she rubs them between her thumb and forefinger. She pushes her face into the folds of the curtains, takes long, deep breaths. They smell of childhood. She does not cry, although this is the closest she has come. She will need ladders to take the curtains from the rail, she realises. She can remember standing quietly behind these curtains. Hide and seek. Five-years-old, or perhaps even younger.
She has not been in this house for ten years.
She tries not to check her phone, but it is impossible. She knows that Tom will have read her note over breakfast, understood that it means a kind of freedom for them both. He has not sent a message, and she does not know what this means.
There is a spare room with a bed and nothing else, so she strips the sheets, bags them, and closes the door behind her. The bathroom is easy. Some unused toiletry baskets someone must have given as a gift, one towel which smells damp, a toothbrush, a sad-looking rubber duck.
There is more to do downstairs. Piles of newspapers. A bookshelf with a row of Catherine Cooksons. Ornaments – china dogs, dainty porcelain thimbles – some ugly landscapes on the walls. The kitchen and its cutlery, its cupboards of soups and beans. Mouldy bread. A fridge with an inch of water in the bottom and some wizened carrots.
She thinks of her own fridge, and she wonders what Tom will eat tonight, what she will eat.
Perhaps she should keep one of the tins of soup.
There are other cupboards, cutlery, drawers full of tea-towels from British seaside resorts. There is a bin, full and stinking, and she takes the bag and puts it inside another. There is a smaller cupboard full of empty bottles. Vodka. Supermarket brand. They are stacked row upon row upon row.
She leaves them where they are and closes the cupboard door.
When she is finished, she realises it has taken less than two hours and she still has three bin bags remaining.
She sits in the chair – her mother’s chair – and she switches on the television, watches a lunchtime chat-show for a moment, and then presses mute. Her phone shows one message from Tom, but she deletes it without reading it.
She lays her head back and closes her eyes. The house smells. It will take a long while to rid the air, the carpets, the walls, of the stench. She will need a new mattress for the bed. She will not lie on the same one her mother used. But she remembers the curtains, thick and heavy. Tomorrow she will take them down and wash them. They will keep the light out well. Tom always liked thin curtains, waking to the day’s light flooding in.
At least now she will be able to sleep.
About the author:
Jason Jackson writes short fiction and poetry, His work has been performed in London, Bristol, New York and Hong Kong, as well as being widely published both online and in print. You can find links to his work and his occasional blog at at www.jjfiction.wordpress.com. Tweets at @jj_fiction